In my last post, I talked about how I’m finally figuring out what to write and what not to write. Big high-concept ideas are great, but it remains absolutely essential that you also do each of these four:
- Choose a setting that you know well, through direct experience or through months of research.
- Create characters that you can make an audience care about deeply as the story begins.
- Write about problems that powerfully resonate with your own problems, directly or metaphorically.
- Write dialogue in voices you know well.
So let’s go back to that Danny McBride interview. Last time I talked about how he came home from Hollywood feeling defeated, became a substitute teacher, and then, after he hit it finally big with his locally-made movie “The Foot Fist Way”, turned that miserable teaching experience in his hit HBO show “Eastbound and Down”.
This time, I’ll focus on the parts I glossed over last time: why he failed in Hollywood, and why “The Foot Fist Way” succeeded.
Let’s start off with McBride and Maron’s uproarious mockery of the failure of his first Hollywood stay. (By this point, the pair have been cracking each other up for a good half hour, so they’re having fun):
- McBride: A lot of the stuff I’d write was all over the place, like I’d write weird fantasy stuff, or horror stuff. Like movies about dragon hunters, weird shit.
- Maron: [laughs] Oh really? You got a dragon hunter script somewhere?
- McBride: Oh yeah. The Draven. He’s half-dragon, half-man. [both laugh] Pretty exciting. It’s gonna be a huge franchise, of course! The guy who works at Crocodile Café wrote this! It’s gonna be a huge franchise, Hollywood!
- Maron: Wow, what was the horror movie?
- McBride: It was this weird thing which I still think is a good idea, you know back in New Orleans back in the day, when there would be floods the coffins would rise out of the ground and they would hire these guys who would go out in the swamps and retrieve the coffins, so it was the really fucked-up, apocalypse now-type dark horror film about these guys.
- Maron: Mercenary corpse finders?
- McBride: In the 1800s, so it’s a period piece, too. All the kind of shit that Hollywood’s looking for from a nineteen year old kid! [both laugh]
- McBride: Jody had grown up doing Tae Kwon Do, he’s like a black belt, and I had grown up taking karate as a kid, so it’s definitely a world that we were kinda used to and we knew about and I think at the time, too, we had—both of us really fell in love with the British Office and we were obsessed with how funny it was, how awkward it was and I think it was like, we want to make something that has that sort of tone...
Nevertheless, they still had to finance, shoot, and release that movie themselves because they hadn’t learned the last lesson: Write what you know, but bigger. The Foot Fist Way was too small to become a big hit with audiences. It was only with their next project together, “Eastbound and Down” that the last piece of the puzzle came in and McBride became a household name.
So how many posts does this story combine? Let’s check them off:
- Just Listen to Yourself (aka, know the range of your voice)
- Write the Emotions You Know
- Write What You Know, But Bigger
- Shortcut to Creating a Character’s Voice: Famous Persona + Someone You Know
- Give Every Hero a Part of Yourself
- If You’ve Got a Hard Sell, You Have to Know Your Assets and Liabilities (something McBride failed to figure out on his earlier projects)
- And most importantly: Your Career Begins When You Know What Not to Write